When it comes to souvenirs, most people have an area of particular interest. Some go for the obligatory t-shirt or hat with the name of the destination emblazoned for all to see. Others collect spoons, bells, thimbles, or other such trinkets. And yet others are just content with the stamp in their passport to go along with photos as reminders of their trip. While I consider myself a connoisseur of all such areas of interest (with a particular leaning toward hat pins, local musical instruments and not just a t-shirt but the properly artistic RIGHT t-shirt) my first and often favorite keepsake is the purchased before I ever leave—the guidebook.
Yes, my personal library is dominated by travel guidebooks—my earliest accomplices in planning my travels. I’m not 100% sure why they hold such fascination for me. Perhaps it’s because of the promise they hold—that something inside will lead me to a decision that will take me thousands of miles from my home just to experience it in person. Perhaps it’s the validation that if I commit to buying the guidebook then I really must be going to that destination. Or perhaps it’s because I just like to look at pictures and gather ideas on how to make them my own.
Regardless of the underlying psychology, travel guidebooks are still a tremendous resource despite the overabundance of information available on the Web. Below are some of my favorites and why.
1) Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com)
It’s my impression that in the clique of travel guidebooks, Lonely Planet is like the cool kid everybody wants to be like. While other (in fact almost all) guidebooks offer more in the way of color pictures of a destination, when it comes down to cold, hard facts about even the most obscure villages in the remotest parts of a little-known country, I’ve found the entries in Lonely Planet guides to be spot on. Not only are their suggestions about lodging and sights really dependable, but there are extensive maps that come in really handy. So while I’ll usually check out three or four guides from my library for a more complete picture of a given destination, it’s usually the Lonely Planet guide that I buy—especially now that you can purchase only pertinent chapters in .pdf form. It’s also worth mentioning that they offer guides covering a lot more countries than most.
2) DK Eyewitness Guides (www.us.dk.com)
If you’re more interested in learning visually than in simply reading, DK Eyewitness Guides are probably your best bet. Not only are there color photos on nearly every page, but when it comes to examining major points of interest, such as palaces, ruins or other noteworthy monuments, there are illustrated guides and cross-sections showing in great detail the buildings in question. There are also illustrated close-ups of key neighborhoods, which is some pretty useful information when on site. The write-ups of lesser towns or points of interest may be a bit limited, but the visual treat is well worth it and serves to stoke the flames of wanderlust.
3) Insight Guides (www.insightguides.com)
When it comes to pictures, Insight Guides are my favorite. They strike a fine balance between information and visual stimulation. They also have a great free app that offers a daily travel photo of the highest caliber. When I’m looking for ideas I often look at Insight Guides.
Naturally there are many other guides—all with their own virtues. The key is in finding out which brand tells YOU the things YOU want to know. My suggestion is to go to your local library or bookstore and peruse your options before making a purchase. And from there it’s all bliss poring over the information that you would someday make your own. Then you too, can experience the joy of guidebooks and get a leg up on purchasing your first souvenir.
Do you have a favorite guidebook brand? Leave a comment and tell us why!